On February 26, Slate’s Chris Wilson, Colonel Jim Hikey, Scott Helfstein, and “Matthew Alexander” (a pseundonym) explored the surprisingly hi-tech hunt for Iraq's dictator in 2003, and ways such tools continue to change U.S. war-fighting. The panelists were introduced by New America President Steve Coll. The event was moderated by Peter Bergen, Co-Director of the Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative.
After the invasion of Iraq, a team of innovative U.S. soldiers captured Saddam Hussein by using Facebook-style social network theory to crack the network of families protecting him. Slate published a five-part series in which Wilson explored the implication of such social networking for other military operations. Leading off the panelists, Wilson explained how he became interested in the story, and how key social networking was in tracking down Saddam Hussein. Social networking analyses, Wilson emphasized, have become much more sophisticated statistically. Colonel Jim Hickey, Commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division that caught Saddam, spoke of his motivations in locating the former dictator and the importance of mapping out family networks in his overall strategy. Saddam’s capture led to a significant decrease in levels of violence in the region.
"Matthew Alexander" (a pseudonym) talked at length of his time as an interrogator in Iraq, and how he was able to leverage knowledge gleamed from social networking in his interrogations. Specifically, Alexander emphasized the usefulness of exploiting social hierarchies. He also discussed, more broadly, which interrogation techniques are most successful and why. Scott Helfstein, Assistant Professor at the United State Military Academy, said he was skeptical of just how easily social networking analyses can be applied to fighting terrorism. He discussed the theory of terror cells designed for operational security and patterns in terrorist networks that he predicted could be “reverse engineered” to identify characteristics of potentially threatening groups.